Excerpt from They Raised Me Up: A Black Single Mother And The Women Who Inspired Her

Chapter One Carolyn and Sarah Somerville, Massachusetts, August 1986


A heavy object thuds against my bedroom wall, startling me from a deep sleep. Heart pounding, I prop myself on one elbow and listen intently. Silence. I squint at the clock on the cardboard box beside my bed: 1:45 a.m. Stumbling into the bathroom, I press my ear against the wall. The banging has stopped. I tiptoe back into the bedroom to check on my daughter. If Sarah wakes up now there'll be no getting her back to sleep for the rest of the night. Fortunately, my four-year-old continues to sleep peacefully, sprawled in the center of the sagging double bed we share. As always, she is wearing her favorite pair of PJ's, the pink ones with the polka dots and the booties on the feet. And, as always, my daughter has her thumb in her mouth. Of course I know it's bad for her, but I just can't bring myself to make her stop. Over this past year, Sarah has watched her parents fight more often than I care to admit. If she needs to suck her thumb to cope with the stress, I am not going to stop her. I lift the covers and slide back into bed next to her.


The thud of something falling in the next apartment rattles the only picture on my wall, a colorful Romare Bearden print of jazz musicians I'd bought three months ago to celebrate my divorce. This time, the banging is accompanied by the sound of voices - a man's yelling, a woman's high-pitched screams. I can't make out what they are saying, but clearly something ugly is taking place. A minute later I hear the sound of running footsteps, and the voices retreat, presumably to the other end of their apartment.

For the tenth time this week, I ask myself whether it was a mistake for me to leave Tacoma. And for the tenth time this week, I remind myself that if I am ever going to realize my dream of "making it" as a jazz pianist, Boston is the place to be, at least for now. Maybe one day I'll move to New York City, the Mecca of the jazz universe. But I am a black single mother with a four-year-old biracial baby and no money. At the moment living in Somerville, a working- class suburb on the outskirts of Boston, is difficult enough.